Kevin Youkilis is gone, and it's time to move on for Red Sox Nation. But his departure might not be the end of the cuts for the Boston Red Sox. In fact, it's almost guaranteed not to be.
Every part of the team, after all, has been hit by injuries. From the lineup, with its two full outfields stuck on the disabled list, to the rotation's current lack of Beckett and Buchholz, to the bullpen, where Andrew Bailey has been missing since before the season began.
We've seen players step up in each of these areas, providing surprising production time-and-again, but now the injured players are starting to get healthy, and that's going to leave the Sox with a good deal of surplus and likely some tough decisions to make.
Let's take a gander at each area, and see who might be next-in-line on the chopping or trading block.
Carl Crawford is already making rehab starts for the GCL Red Sox while Jacoby Ellsbury is getting awfully close to starting a stint of his own.
Thankfully, there shouldn't be any serious difficulty finding space on the 25-man roster for both of them. Darnell McDonald, as fun as he's been to have around at times, can be dropped from the roster without doing much damage to the team, and if necessary Ryan Kalish can be sent down to Pawtucket. Even factoring in a Sweeney return, the team could always elect to dump Brent Lillibridge if they were comfortable playing one of their various other infielders at first in an emergency.
The problem comes with deciding the starting three once both players are back. And, sadly for Daniel Nava, he seems like the player likely to take the hit.
It's not going to be a terribly fair move, given how well Nava has hit and how poorly a certain $20 million left fielder has played in his Red Sox career, but ultimately it seems likely that, should everyone get healthy at once, Nava will have to bide his time and simply accept that he'll have a few less at bats even as Bobby Valentine tries to get everyone some playing time (which seems likely given the way the Youkilis situation was handled).
What doesn't seem likely is any significant trade. In spite of his incredible run, it's hard to imagine teams placing a ton of value on Daniel Nava with only a few months of games behind his reputation. Jacoby Ellsbury would obviously bring the biggest haul, but his value is down following injury and the only way the Sox move him is if they get a big piece back which will help them win now and in the future, such as a young front-line pitcher. Ross likely wouldn't bring enough value back for what they're giving up, and Crawford? Talk about selling low. The Sox would have to eat far too much money.
Lost in all this is Scott Podsednik, who will likely be sent off to the next team in desperate need of an outfielder, with the Sox perhaps making a small profit (financially or otherwise) for having taken the initial risk.
The biggest "if" here is whether or not the Sox will get Daniel Bard back in shape before the deadline. For now, we'll assume not, and move forward as if the only returning arms are Andrew Bailey and Rich Hill.
That makes things relatively easy.
Despite a terrible start to the year that still has plenty of ERAs inflated, the Sox enjoy a significant surplus in a bullpen which has already overflowed to Pawtucket. The three arms most likely to stick right now are Mark Melancon, Alfredo Aceves, and Andrew Miller. Melancon is intended to be part of the long-term core which will idealy consist of himself, Bard, and Bailey, while Aceves and Miller have proven too interesting this season to pass up between the former's velocity bump and the latter's sudden reliability as a reliever.
Vicente Padilla and Scott Atchison likely fall into a similar category with Daniel Nava, where they won't bring enough back to justify sending them off.
That leaves Matt Albers and Clayton Mortensen, and that's where you likely find your space. Mortensen is an easy fix--with his option already used, the Sox can feel free to drop him back to Pawtucket at any time, where he'll wait with Junichi Tazawa for an opportunity to rejoin the team.
Matt Albers, on the other hand...well, it depends on how desperate teams are. A massive, but all-too-temporary strikeout boost made Albers look like a legitimate pen arm in the first half of 2011, before he fell to pieces in the second half. Now Albers is once again back to producing results, but the fact of the matter is that he just doesn't look good. High sinkers, hard hit balls, and a .225 BABIP don't exactly inspire confidence. While hitters have yet to really make his numbers match his appearance, it's all-too-easy to see Albers crashing to Earth in a hurry. If the Sox can find a team that's blinded by the production and willing to give up something in return, they should pull the trigger and clear the way for more legitimate relievers.
Here's where things get really interesting, because unless we see a decent outing from Daisuke over the next week or two, he could be done with the Boston Red Sox.
Between Daisuke, Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, Cook, and now Morales, the Sox have to put together a three-man rotation. Beckett and Lester are locks, as is Buchholz if he doesn't go completely in the hole. We know that Franklin Morales will get another couple of attempts, and Cook had a better day against the Braves than Daisuke has in his first three starts.
Some room might be made temporarily if Felix Doubront continues to struggle. It's been a few weeks since we've seen him consistently produce, and while the Sox are hardly going to kick him to the curb after a short slump like this, they've always been fans of giving pitchers rest in the middle of the season, and with Doubront holding down a Major League starting schedule for the first time in his career, the team might choose to engineer a short rest around the All-Star break with a phantom injury like elbow soreness.
Still, even with that temporary spot opened up, there's not enough room for the Sox to keep Cook, Morales, and Daisuke in the rotation. And frankly, if I had to choose one to go, right now it would be Daisuke. His peripherals are nice, sure, but five years of dealing with him makes it hard to imagine that we're really going to see a different starter than the one who has so frustrated us in the past. He's got greater heights, but volatility is not exactly what the Sox are after right now.
With only a few months left on his contract, the Sox aren't exactly aiming for future performance here, and if Cook and Morales continue to perform while Daisuke doesn't, it might be the most sensible move to just end this long, frustrating relationship and cut him free if no suitor can be found.